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Wisconsin schools sued after kids contract virus

by The Washington Post | October 13, 2021 at 4:53 a.m.

When Shannon Jensen and Gina Kildahl sent their children back to their Wisconsin schools during the past school year, everyone had to wear masks. But when school resumed this fall, that was not the case -- even as health experts warned that masks were necessary to keep a new highly contagious coronavirus variant from sweeping through classrooms.

Jensen and Kildahl both sent their sons to their elementary schools in masks anyway. Jensen's son attends Rose Glen Elementary School in Waukesha, outside Milwaukee. Kildahl's son goes to school about 200 miles away at Fall Creek Elementary, in between Green Bay and Minneapolis.

Just weeks into the new school year, both boys tested positive for the coronavirus. Lawsuits filed this month in two Wisconsin federal courts blame the schools' lax policies on masks, quarantining and contact tracing.

Both the boards of education for the School District of Waukesha and the School District of Fall Creek had voted to end many of the covid-19 mitigation policies that had been in place last year, according to the two lawsuits. That included getting rid of universal mask requirements.

The moves defied strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the lawsuits add. Jensen's suit was filed in a federal court in eastern Wisconsin on Oct. 6. Kildahl's lawsuit was filed on Monday in Wisconsin's western district court.

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By holding classes without adequate safety measures, Jensen's suit alleges, covid cases spread within the district's schools. The school district and its board are "knowingly, needlessly, unreasonably, and recklessly exposing the public to Covid-19 ... endangering public health," her lawsuit adds.

PAC funds suits

Both lawsuits were funded by the Minocqua Brewing Co. super political action committee, based out of northern Wisconsin. The committee is headed up by Kirk Bangstad, who ran for the Wisconsin State Assembly last year as a Democrat against Rob Swearingen, the Republican incumbent. Bangstad, who was forced to shut down his brewpub during the pandemic, has been critical of his state's handling of the health crisis.

He said he has been disheartened to see Wisconsin school board meetings flooded with anti-mask protesters, which he called "a very loud and obnoxious minority." When he asked on his podcast and brewery's Facebook page whether parents were concerned that dropping safety policies would harm their children, Bangstad said he received hundreds of responses.

"We're hoping to do a class-action suit against all school boards in Wisconsin that aren't providing the CDC-recommended mitigations for students," he told The Post on Monday night. The goal, Bangstad added, is to hold "to account these school boards who are anti-science and anti-mask."

Officials representing both schools declined to comment on the lawsuits.

CDC officials said last month that pediatric coronavirus cases and school outbreaks were lower in places where masks were required in the classroom. But the issue continues to divide communities, including in Wisconsin, where school board meetings have turned volatile as members debate whether children should have to wear face coverings.

Children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccines, which have proved to protect people from covid-related hospitalizations and deaths.

Print Headline: Wisconsin schools sued after kids contract virus

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